Oral Answers to Questions — Poland (British Subject's Arrest)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th June 1949.

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Photo of Professor Douglas Savory Professor Douglas Savory , Queen's University of Belfast 12:00 am, 29th June 1949

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement with regard to the case of Mrs. Firth, a British subject employed by the British Embassy in Warsaw, who was arrested by the Polish police a month ago.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

Mrs. Halina Firth is of Polish birth and acquired British nationality by marriage in 1928. On 12th April last she was engaged as a translator in the joint Press-reading service of the British and American Embassies in Warsaw and on 13th May she was arrested by the Polish security police. It is understood that she is accused of activities directed against the Polish State.

Under Polish Law Mrs. Firth's position would normally have entitled her to diplomatic immunity, but this has been refused on the ground that no formal notification of her appointment had been made to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs before her arrest. Although the Polish authorities have recognised that Mrs. Firth is a British subject, they have, so far, refused to allow the British Consul to see her.

His Majesty's Ambassador in Warsaw has protested to the Polish Government against Mrs. Firth's arrest and against their refusal to allow her to see the British Consul.

Photo of Professor Douglas Savory Professor Douglas Savory , Queen's University of Belfast

How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to carry on the work of the British Embassy in Warsaw if there are these continual arrests of British subjects like this lady and others, like Marie Marynowska, who was arrested over a year ago? Is not the intention to prevent the British Government from carrying on their diplomatic work in Warsaw?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

The task of carrying on in countries behind the Iron Curtain is very difficult, and the choice is whether we should break off altogether. Nobody, whether man or woman of the nationality of those countries or approaching the nationality of those countries or who has had the nationality of those countries before marriage, is safe from the N.K.V.D.

Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , Oxford

Is there nothing more that the right hon. Gentleman can do to safeguard the personal liberty of this lady, who is our fellow-citizen and our servant?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I have taken every possible course open to me except the breaking off of negotiations, and that is a very delicate thing to do. I have protested, and in many cases in these countries behind the Iron Curtain I have taken action by calling for the return of other people. I admit that the situation, with the secret police business, is extremely unsatisfactory.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's very definite statement that nobody of the original nationality of the countries behind the Iron Curtain is safe when employed in British embassies or legations, could the right hon. Gentleman state if there are any other persons employed in similar countries?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I have sent out messages to the Embassies that the whole thing must be looked into, and they must take care, when they employ such persons that immediate application for the exercise of immunity must be made at once. No risk must be taken at all.